Access to telehealth services for seniors may take off in the coming years thanks to the CHRONIC CARE Act, signed into law in February 2018. The new law was part of the newly approved federal budget that enables virtual doctor visits for Americans covered by Medicare Advantage plans. The new law will make it easier for private Medicare Advantage plans and other entities like accountable care organizations (ACOs) to offer telehealth services.
It could be a huge boon to telehealth startups getting into the business of offering access to physicians and patients via smart phone, tablet or computer. Employers and private insurers are already embracing the trend as a way to make healthcare more convenient and avoid costly and unnecessary trips to the emergency room or a more expensive physician’s office.
The new law, among other things, does the following:
- Gives Medicare Advantage plans more flexibility so they can now cover “non-medical” benefits like bathroom grab bars and wheelchair ramps for the chronically ill
- Makes more telehealth services (providing health care remotely through electronic means) available for Medicare Advantage members
- Expands telehealth services for people having stroke symptoms, regardless of their geographic area
- Provides kidney disease patients with more access to home dialysis through telehealth
We should celebrate the passage of the CHRONIC CARE Act as an excellent first step in improving the care for seniors with chronic conditions. Now, as the new law moves toward the regulatory process, we must remain engaged in its implementation to ensure its success. Additionally, we must continue to seek policy solutions that break down the federal, state and local barriers that inhibit what is truly needed – person- and family-centered coordinated care, support for family caregivers and better private and public financing strategies for the delivery of long-term services and supports. If we can do that, we can finally achieve quality care.